Posted on Monday, February 15th, 2016 by Jacob Hall
If we’re going to be entirely honest with one another, I was kind of dreading Deadpool. I love superhero movies and I have often enjoyed the character of Deadpool in the pages of Marvel comic books, but I had so little faith in any attempt to bring him to the screen. I figured the film would be one joke repeated for two hours, that Wade Wilson was too weird to exist in a movie.
I was wrong and chances are strong that you also know how wrong I was, as the film opened to a record-shattering $135 million at the box office over the weekend. Deadpool is a hoot, a film that coats the typical superhero movie template with a satisfying combination of ultra-violence, immature jokes, and satire. Director Tim Miller has orchestrated a hurricane of a movie – it’s a force of chaos and destruction that leaves nothing standing, but it’s contained and controlled and follows a very direct and purposeful path. That’s easier said than done.
And since you’ve all seen this movie already, it’s time to take a slightly deeper dive into the movie, to break it into a few component parts and take a look at what works and what doesn’t. Spoilers follow, naturally.
Although he has spent his entire career making it easy to root for him – he is one charismatic fellow – Ryan Reynolds has been unfortunate enough to stumble through a few too many misfires. His first stab at playing Deadpool in X-Men Origins: Wolverine remains an embarrassing low point of modern superhero cinema. It wasn’t his choice to have the most talkative Marvel character of all time get his mouth sewn shut for the climax, but it’s hard to forget. The same goes for Green Lantern, an aimless film made with no passion that strands him in the middle of a bunch of nonsense without a life preserver. You can actually see Reynolds struggling to stay afloat in a film that is doing everything in its power to drown him.
So Deadpool is a real “third time’s the charm” situation for Reynolds, who is finally allowed to let go of any preconceived notions of being a proper leading man or a straightforward cinematic superhero. It turns out that he’s a comedic force to be reckoned with you remove his boundaries. Like the movie surrounding him, Reynolds’ performance as Wade Wilson is finely controlled chaos and his rat-a-tat delivery of one joke after another is as impressive as it is a little exhausting. Four days after seeing it, I’m still chuckling at him staring at his shattered wrists and his limp hands, only to mutter that all dinosaurs feared the T-Rex. It’s dumb joke and a fast aside, but the fact that it’s sticking with me says something.
And while much of the conversation regarding Reynolds will rightfully focus on his comic chops, his work in the film’s handful of key dramatic moments still work. The sequence where he’s prisoner in Ajax’s laboratory is brutal stuff and Wade’s gallows humor keeps these scenes from feeling entirely miserable. At the same time, Reynolds lets us see how a sense of humor can keep you alive, to keep a spark of life going even as your physical body is torn to pieces.
Deadpool may have advanced healing, but his real superpower is his unstoppable mouth – he talks and he talks because he’s so broken that he needs to remind himself that he’s alive. His immature dick jokes are armor. This is not a heavy film by any means, but it’s easy to appreciate how Reynolds builds a proper character out of those rapid fire jokes.
The X-Men Connection
One of the more pleasantly surprisingly aspects of Deadpool is just how much of an X-Men movie it really is. Sure, the film’s take on Colossus may be completely different than past versions, but you can chalk that up to the rebooted universe from the end of X-Men: Days of Future Past. What’s more important are the frequent references to mutants, the use of Xavier’s School For Gifted Children as an actual location, and even the presence of the X-Men’s nifty jet. It may be tonally different than every X-Men movie so far, but Deadpool is no mere spin-off and it doesn’t take place in its own universe – it wants to exist side by side with 20th Century Fox’s other comic book movies.
And this is so satisfying. As wonderful as many of Marvel Studios’ movies are, they all share a very deliberate house style. Tones may change, but you can easily watch them all next to each other and recognize them as the product of a single studio. Deadpool taking place in the X-Men universe without feeling like any other X-Men movie doesn’t just lead to a surprising movie, it’s a strong reflection of what it’s like to actually read comics. The beauty of a Deadpool comic is that it takes place in the larger Marvel universe and can feature cameo appearances from other Marvel characters, but has a tone that is entirely its own. Superhero comics can be whatever they want to be and Deadpool is very much what it wants to be.
This is also an area where you quibble a bit. As fun as this goody-two-shows Colossus can be (and he’s a terrific straight man for Deadpool’s antics), I can’t help but hope future versions of the character in other X-Men movies give him a bit more complexity. They’ve finally gotten the look right (it only took over a decade), so it would be a shame to reduce him to joke in non-Deadpool movies. The other X-Men characters are a mixed bag. Negasonic Teenage Warhead is fun (and how great is the yellow superhero suit she wears under her typical teenage wardrobe?), but she’s barely a character. The villains, Ajax and Angel Dust, are painfully simplistic and their powers fairly standard, both of which would have been forgivable if the movie let them have wacky costumes or something. However, the real oddity here is how Morena Baccarin‘s Vanessa Carlysle has the name of the mutant superhero known as Copycat, but the movie doesn’t do anything with that at all. Does this mean there was a previous draft of this film where Deadpool’s girlfriend has shapeshifting powers? And if so, why did this name stay in place when those were taken away from her?